Burundian soldiers detained ‘for refusing to fight’ rebels: Reports

Burundian soldiers detained ‘for refusing to fight’ rebels: Reports

More than 240 soldiers reportedly apprehended after refusing to fight Congolese M23 fighters

By James Tasamba

KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) - Burundian authorities have detained dozens of government soldiers for allegedly refusing to fight rebel groups in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), according to media reports.

“More than 240 soldiers were apprehended after refusing to fight the M23 rebel group in DR Congo alongside the Congolese army. The soldiers are detained at four different prisons,” the Sosmedias Burundi news portal reported this week, citing military sources.

The Burundi government has yet to comment on the alleged detention of the soldiers.

But the report said the soldiers are being held at the Bururi and Rumonge prisons in the southwest and in Ngozi and Ruyigi prisons in northern and eastern Burundi after being arrested about one month ago.

It said the soldiers face charges of disobeying military orders.

Burundi was the first country to send troops to eastern Congo in August 2022 after the East African Community (EAC) bloc agreed to launch a joint mission against armed groups.

But when Kinshasa refused to renew the regional force's mandate after December 2023, Burundi's soldiers remained in Congo under a bilateral agreement.

Between September 2023 and January 2024, several Burundian soldiers, including senior officers, were reportedly killed in North Kivu province in eastern Congo.

Fighting between the M23 rebels and the Congolese army intensified in recent days around the town of Sake, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Goma.

Since the first week of February 2024, more than a dozen civilians have been killed and several injured around Goma and Sake, according to the UN refugee agency.

Thousands of internally displaced persons have fled Sake to Goma.

M23, an ethnic Tutsi-led rebel group that was formed in 2012, is one of the multiple rebel groups fighting in eastern Congo.

The group claims to defend Tutsi interests against ethnic Hutu militias whose leaders are linked to the genocide of the Tutsis in 1994 in Rwanda.

The Tutsis make up some 1% - 2% of Congo’s population.

Congo alleges the rebel group is supported by Rwanda, a claim Kigali has denied.

Central African countries including South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi have deployed troops in Congo under the Southern African Development Community (SADC) force to fight armed groups.

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